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Functioning of Water Users Associations or Pani Panchayat in Orissa: Principle, Proce
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Functioning of Water Users Associations or Pani Panchayat in Orissa:
Principle, Procedure, Performance and Prospects

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The current paper dealt with an evaluation of water management through community participation and emergence of Pani Panchayat in a case study of Vir Bajrang Bali Pani Panchayat under Lift Irrigation Project of the Hirakud Command Area (HCA), Orissa state in Eastern India. Broad objectives of this paper is to examine the functioning and otherwise of Water User Association (WUA) or Pani Panchayat promoted by the State and the local traditional irrigation institutions in the HCA, Orissa and to evaluate their functioning & characteristics in the context of local water management. The precise objectives are; (1) to analytically review the Orissa Farmers Management of Irrigation Systems Act and study the functioning of the Pani Panchayat, (2) to examine about the peoples participation and their liveliness, (3) the apparatus of water management and control, and its impact of such management on productivity among the members and (4) to recommend policy interventions to make the formal institutions more successful. The paper concludes that the Pani Panchayat as regulatory institutions in charge of water distribution on equitable basis, their performance has been reasonably weak and unsuccessful. Even though Pani Panchayat has been initiated and endorsed in the State for more than a couple of years, the acceptance of the model have been lethargic and scattered. As Pani Panchayat is a new concept needing enough experimentation and experience before finalization of its content and constituent in greater detail, the irrigation agency is not in a position to spell out the different component of the programme in concrete terms, the farmers should be informed accordingly. Otherwise frequent changes in the provisions will give a confusing picture to the farmers and they will lose confidence in the irrigation authority. A detailed action plan should be prepared in consultation with the water users through Participatory Rural Appraisal method. A feasibility study should be under taken by examining the caste class conflict, groupism, political differences and history of confrontation and conflict if any. It is necessary to apply bottom-up approach instead of top-down for sustainability. There must also be mechanisms to ensure that the benefits of the project are equally distributed to all concerned stakeholders.


Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) has been conceived as the thrust area in the effective irrigation management by involving and associating the farmers in planning, operation and maintenance of the irrigation system. Setting up organization has acknowledged significant attention in PIM Programs. The number of organisations registered or in the process of formation has been used as the scale of success of PIM. But institutional aspects of farmer participation in irrigation receive less attention in the current PIM policies. Similar to many other countries, many states in India are looking for, to involve farmers in operation and maintenance at higher levels through a variety of PIM and Irrigation Management Transfers (IMT) Programs (Gulati et al. 2005).
The National Water Policy 1987 emphasized the participation of farmers in different aspects of the management of the irrigation system, principally in water distribution and collection of water rates. The Vaidyanathan Committee on Pricing of Irrigation Water (Planning Commission 1992) suggested farmer’s participation in the management of irrigation systems. A separate Working Group on PIM was set up by The Planning Commission to re-examine and recommend the strategies for the Ninth Five Year Plan, where the legal, financial, and institutional factors were recognized as the vital to the successful implementation of PIM programs. According to the Mid-Term Appraisal of Ninth Five Year Plan, the progress achieved so far in PIM, designed to improve water-use-efficiency, is rather low. The irrigated area transferred to WUA in India is only about 7 percent as against 45 percent in Indonesia, 66 percent in Philippines, and 22 percent in Thailand (Government of India, Planning Commission 2000). Latterly, the voluntary sector and Non- Governmental Organization (NGOs) have made their presence felt in the area of Common Property Resources (CPRs) focussing on the participatory forms of development (see in this context Chopra et al. 1990; Katar Singh 1991a, 1991b and 1994; Sengupta 1991; Singh and Ballabh 1996).

Pani Panchayat in Orissa: Initiatives and Challenges

Government of India adopted National Water Policy in 1987. The same was reviewed and updated in 2002.Based on the policy; Guidelines were issued to all the States of PIM, attaching utmost importance to the farmers’ involvement in various aspects of management of irrigation system, particularly in water distribution and collection of water rate. Government of Orissa adopted a similar policy of PIM in State Water Policy of 1994 which emphasizes on transfer of irrigation management to farmers. From being a mere provider of water it has move into a paradigm of sustainable water resources management with a focus on people participation.
Ever since the late 1990s, the Orissa Government has been demonstrating a massive interest in farmers’ participation in water management. This, however, appears to be wisdom which has been received from the World Bank. The necessity for farmer participation arose from the Government’s assurance to the World Bank funded Orissa Water Resources Consolidation Project (OWRCP). As a component of this project, the Farmers Organisation and Turnover (FOT) programme has been given much significance.

Emergence of the Act

The Orissa Farmers Management Irrigation Act provides for the establishment of farmers organizations in all the irrigation systems, for their operation and maintenance. The act has 43 sections divided into 7 chapters. Each chapter provides specific provision for a specific objective/activity. No-9371-Legis.-The following Act of the Orissa Legislative Assembly having been assented to by the Governor on the 25th June 2002 is published for general information. “Orissa Act 10 of 2002 The Orissa Pani Panchayat Act, 2002 an Act to provide for farmers’ participation in the management of irrigation systems and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.2 Whereas in the State of Orissa, which is essentially an agricultural State depending on an efficient and equitable supply and distribution of water, which is a National Wealth, ensuring optimum utilization of water by farmers for improvement of agricultural production is the utmost need.

State-wide Initiation of PP Programme as on Mid-2005

The Government of Orissa with a view to provide equitable, timely and assured irrigation has introduced the concept of PPs scheme through farmer’s awareness Programmes in the irrigated commands throughout the State. The concepts was finally lead to transfer of tertiary irrigation networks (Minor/ Sub-minors) to registered ‘Pani Panchayats’. The responsibility of operation and maintenance (O & M) of the reservoir/diversion weir (as the case may be) Dam, Spillways, sluices, primary and secondary distribution networks etc, rests with the Department of Water Resources (DOWR), where as the responsibility of ‘O & M’ of the tertiary systems i.e. (Below minor/sub-minor) will be with PPs. The geographical extent of the programme covers the entire State comprising of about 18.25 lakh hectares of Major, Medium & Minor irrigation command areas in all the 30 districts of Orissa.

Diverse Strategy & Assignment of Pani Panchayat

Diverse Strategy of PP has certain consequence in relation to the source of water.3 This discrepancy must be considered as a qualitative change from the condition of agriculture, which is entirely rain fed. One is obviously related to the cropping intensity throughout the year in relation to the assurance and availability of water. However, in minimum there is at least a certainty of irrigation during Kharif (rainy season-June to November). Sometimes it is rainfall, sometimes it is a wrong technical design, sometimes the command is not homogenous and it is scattered and consequently there are losses in transit etc. There are number of human factors, which also compromise the possibilities of achieving the level of irrigation that was originally or traditionally intended and designed.

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